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The Hill’s Morning Report – Democrats duke it out during Nevada debate

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happy Thursday! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the daily co-creators, so find us @asimendinger and @alweaver22 on Twitter and recommend the Morning Report to your friends. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

For the first time, a national debate stage was waiting for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Unfortunately for him, his Democratic rivals were waiting, too.


Bloomberg, who has risen fast in Democratic primary polls, was the center of attacks on Wednesday night, including his city’s now-condemned “stop-and-frisk” law enforcement policy, his achievements as a three-term mayor, his reputation for crude comments to female employees at the company that bears his name, along with the nearly $400 million he’s already spent on his campaign. 


We have not been talking enough about Donald Trump,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said after more than an hour of sparring in Las Vegas with five other presidential candidates who appeared to believe that to rise up required kicking down.


In the second half of the two-hour event, the battle between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Bloomberg intensified as the two went at it over capitalism and socialism. Repeatedly, Bloomberg defended his wealth, noting that he has given hundreds of millions of dollars to philanthropic causes, including his 12-week campaign. The former mayor has pledged to spend upward of $2 billion during his bid to beat President Trump.


“We’re not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that,” Bloomberg told Sanders. “It was called communism, and it just didn’t work.”


At another point, Bloomberg knocked Sanders over the senator’s accumulated wealth, noting that the “best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses. What’d I miss here?”


“Communism, that’s a cheap shot,” Sanders told the billionaire New Yorker who is not on the Nevada ballot. Sanders is leading in the Silver State by double digits ahead of Saturday’s caucuses, but Bloomberg repeatedly warned that Trump will be reelected if Democrats nominate Sanders, along with his embrace of “Medicare for All” and socialism in America. 


The Hill: Democrats pile on Bloomberg in opening minutes of debate.


The Hill: Five takeaways from the Nevada debate.


The New York Times: Billions of targets on his back, Bloomberg joins the debate fray.


The Hill: Rivals rip Bloomberg over stop-and-frisk policy at debate. 


Concerned that her poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire called for a knockout performance on Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at every turn used her answers to lay into her fellow competitors. “I grew up fighting,” she told Nevada voters.


While talking about health care, she jabbed at Buttigieg, calling his health reform proposal a “PowerPoint,” and likened Klobuchar’s plan to a Post-It note. “OK, that’s it,” Klobuchar sputtered as Buttigieg joined her in shaking his head while Warren was rewarded by applause inside the hall. 


Warren also had the upper hand in a notable back-and-forth with Bloomberg over his refusal to release women from confidentiality agreements with his companies. Tripping over his words, Bloomberg said the nondisclosure deals were reached “consensually” and would stand.


The night was a boon for the Massachusetts Democrat, who raised $2.8 million on the day. 


The Washington Post: At fiery Democratic debate, a sour welcome for Bloomberg and criticism for Sanders.


Frank Bruni: Despite his billions, Bloomberg busts.


The Hill: Warren hits Bloomberg over #MeToo answer: Being “nice to some women” just “doesn’t cut it.”


Outside of the Bloomberg-centric battles, the war of words between Buttigieg and Klobuchar was evident throughout the evening. The former South Bend, Ind., mayor hit her for her inability to name the president of Mexico during a recent interview, and her Senate vote to confirm Kevin McAleenan, the former head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 


Later, Klobuchar turned on Buttigieg, accusing him of “memorizing a bunch of talking points,” instead of leading and legislating in the Washington “arena.” The Minnesota senator’s strategy was to call for Democratic unity against Trump while accusing some of her rivals of being too liberal, too inexperienced and perhaps too prosperous to be electable. “I don’t think we look at Donald Trump and say we need someone richer in the White House,” she said, gesturing toward Bloomberg.


“I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete,” Klobuchar said dryly about Buttigieg at another point.


The Hill: Buttigieg hits Bloomberg, Sanders: “Let’s put forth someone who is actually a Democrat.”


Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose wobbly campaign may be over if he loses the South Carolina primary next week, appeared to hold back from many of the heated skirmishes, content with loud, rapid-fire delivery to repeat his themes of governing experience, aisle-crossing legislative mastery and an embrace of policy solutions that he says will help defeat Trump across key states in a general election. 


Toward the end of the debate, NBC’s Chuck Todd brought up the possibility of a brokered convention and asked whether the individual with the most delegates should be the nominee even if he or she has not amassed the requisite number. Bloomberg, Warren, Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar agreed that the convention should work its will, while Sanders disagreed. 


Niall Stanage: Winners and losers from the Democratic debate in Las Vegas.


Amie Parnes, The Hill: Former skeptics now warning of brokered convention “nightmare” for Democrats.


The Hill: Buttigieg says Sanders needs to release full medical records. 


San Antonio Express News: Sanders to campaign in Texas on Nevada’s caucus Saturday.


Colorado Politics: Klobuchar campaign staffs up in Colorado, indicating hopes for a long horizon.


The next Democratic debate, moderated by CBS News, will take place in Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday before the state’s primary on Feb. 29 and lead into Super Tuesday on March 3, when primary voters in 14 states and one territory head to the polls.





WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: The president tapped Richard Grenell, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, to serve as acting director of national intelligence to replace Joseph Maguire, who as acting in the post is required by law to depart by March 11. To lead the U.S. intelligence community in an acting capacity with little intelligence experience, Grenell does not face Senate confirmation.


To replace Maguire, the president could choose any official who has been Senate-confirmed. Maguire took over the post in August from former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), just as a whistleblower within the CIA complained about the president’s actions concerning Ukraine.


Grenell, a top supporter of the president, is seen as a loyalist and is close with Trump’s family, especially Donald Trump Jr. According to one former State Department official, Grenell is treated as “extended family.”  


“Unwavering loyalty. I can’t recall an incident where he has expressed any concern, annoyance or frustration with Trump,” the official said of Grenell’s relationship with Trump.


Grenell would become the first openly gay member of the Cabinet. The New York Times was the first to report the impending move.


The changes at the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) continue an unprecedented pattern of high turnover among Trump’s top White House staff, appointees in executive departments and members of the Cabinet. As of Friday, turnover within the top tier of advisers was 82 percent in the Executive Office of the President under the 45th president, and he’s said good-bye to at least 10 appointees from his Cabinet since his inauguration (Brookings Institution). 


Justice: Trump ally Roger Stone is set to be sentenced today amid a political firestorm. A federal judge will decide his fate after Justice Department prosecutors softened a tough initial recommendation of a seven- to nine-year prison sentence for conviction on seven felony counts, including witness tampering (The Hill).


Trump quoted Fox News’s Tucker Carlson In a late night tweet on Wednesday, saying what happened to Stone “should never happen to anyone in our Country again.” 


Separately, the White House has now assembled a team of advisers to guide the president’s freewheeling clemency process ahead of new pardons Trump is considering (The Washington Post). The president has repeatedly demurred when asked if he will pardon Stone.


> Pentagon: John Rood, a top Pentagon official who advised against cutting off U.S. military aid to Ukraine, resigned Wednesday after the president pushed for his exit from the Department of Defense. 


Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said in a letter he will step down from his post on Feb. 28, noting that his resignation was “requested” by the president. According to CNN, Rood was expected to depart the administration after losing support from top national security leaders. 


Rood, who served in the position for more than two years, is a top adviser to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and coordinates national security policy. He also oversees areas that deal with the country’s partnerships with foreign allies, and played a role to certify to Congress that Ukraine took actions to make key reforms to receive $250 million in aid (Bloomberg News).


The president tweeted his thanks to the outgoing Defense official “for his service to our Country, and wish him well in his future endeavors!” (The Hill).


> WikiLeaks: Edward Fitzgerald, an attorney for Julian Assange, alleged on Wednesday that the president offered a pardon to the WikiLeaks founder if he denied involvement by the Russians in the Democratic National Committee (DNC) hack in 2016. 


Fitzgerald said in a London court that former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) passed along the message from the president to his client, who has been imprisoned in London since being arrested in the Ecuadorian Embassy there in April. 


Fitzgerald told the court that a statement made by Jennifer Robinson, another member of Assange’s legal team, shows, “Mr. Rohrabacher going to see Mr Assange and saying, on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr Assange … said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks.”


In a statement, Rohrabacher said he met with Assange on his own initiative as a member of Congress and did not discuss the WikiLeaks founder with the president. He called Assange “the true whistleblower of our time.” 


Rohrabacher said he told Assange “that if he could provide me information and evidence about who actually gave him the DNC emails, I would then call on President Trump to pardon him. At no time did I offer a deal made by the President, nor did I say I was representing the President. Upon my return, I spoke briefly with [former White House chief of staff] Gen. [John] Kelly. I told him that Julian Assange would provide information about the purloined DNC emails in exchange for a pardon. No one followed up with me including Gen. Kelly and that was the last discussion I had on this subject with anyone representing Trump or in his Administration.”


He called on Trump to pardon Assange now.


White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham denied the president made or authorized any pardon offer to Assange through Rohrabacher (The Hill).


> Immigration: Jared Kushner is seeking investors to help curb Central America migration into the United States (Bloomberg News).


> Trump 2020: The president was in Phoenix on Wednesday and will be in Colorado Springs tonight for back-to-back reelection rallies in which he touts the economy and assails his Democratic primary opponents, including Bloomberg and Sanders. On Wednesday, Trump erroneously claimed 180 million people would lose health care under Sanders, adding that the Trump administration is “trying to protect … American health care,” including coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions (Fox News). It’s an assertion challenged by fact-checkers who clarify that Trump wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid benefits, while Democrats including Sanders who promote “Medicare for All” propose to replace private and employer-provided health insurance with an expanded federal system that covers everyone, albeit at high cost to the government (The Associated Press).   






INTERNATIONAL: The coronavirus death toll stands at 2,131 this morning, with at least 75,751 cases of infection worldwide, according to the latest data. China posted a sharp drop in new cases following its change in diagnostic criteria for patients near the epicenter of the outbreak (Reuters).


Japan, after releasing hundreds of passengers from a quarantined cruise ship near Tokyo (pictured below), is preparing to let more depart today. The ship had 621 infectious cases aboard, and two infected patients died who had been removed from the ship and sent to hospitals, Japanese authorities reported (The New York Times). Medical experts have posed questions about the safety of releasing more cruise ship passengers from quarantine. 


Japanese infectious disease specialist Kentaro Iwata of Kobe University said he had visited the ship on Tuesday to try to advise public health officials about how to prevent further spread of the virus. He described the infection control measures on board as “completely chaotic” (The New York Times).


In Cambodia, passengers released from cruise ship MS Westerdam, which sailed for weeks in search of a friendly port and a country willing to let it dock, were desperate on Wednesday to find transportation to get home. Finding flights out of the country requires plenty of patience (The Associated Press).


Meanwhile, in Wuhan, China, at the epicenter of the outbreak, health workers are toiling door-to-door to track down new cases of infection or any ill residents they have missed (The Associated Press).  


In Russia, the government has decided to let Chinese nationals with business visas into the country amid a temporary travel ban (The Associated Press).


Iran surprised medical experts and public health officials on Wednesday when state media reported two deaths from COVID-19 in Qom. Iran had not previously reported any cases of the infection (The New York Times).


Although the first outbreak of the new coronavirus emerged in China in late December, the wide-ranging economic impacts globally are now being tallied (NPR).




The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: and We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!


Advice for fellow Democrats: Don’t count out Biden, don’t fear a brokered convention, by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), opinion contributor, The Hill. 


The Hill’s review of John Solomon’s columns on Ukraine, by The Hill Staff. 


The House returns to legislative work on Tuesday.


The Senate will convene for a pro forma session at 2:30 p.m. and return from recess on Monday. 


The president delivers remarks at a Hope for Prisoners graduation at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and flies to Colorado to hold a rally in Colorado Springs. Trump will then fly back to Las Vegas and remain overnight.


Vice President Pence will fly this morning to Colorado Springs to introduce the president before his evening rally. From there, Pence will fly to Las Vegas and remain overnight.   


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Saudi Arabia where he met with U.S. Embassy staff and families in Riyadh this morning, followed by a meeting with King Salman. At 6 p.m., the secretary meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and attends a working dinner at 6:45 p.m. with the Crown Prince.


You’re invited to The Hill’s upcoming newsmaker event:

America’s Opioid Epidemic: Lessons Learned & A Way Forward, Feb. 26, in Washington, exploring access to treatment for opioid addiction and recovery issues with Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.). RSVP today


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Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.


Catholic Church: The Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., filed for bankruptcy Wednesday, six months after it announced that it paid $12 million to more than 100 victims of sexual abuse dating back decades. The payments came in the wake of a 2018 grand jury report that revealed decades of sexual abuse and cover-up by top church leaders. The diocese is the first in Pennsylvania to seek such protections and joins at least 20 others across the United States to do so through the bankruptcy system. In a petition to the bankruptcy court, the diocese reported having an estimated $1 million to $10 million in assets (The Patriot-News).


More crimes against children: An investigation by The New York Times, launched following a tip from a worried reader, exposed the unfathomable explosion of child sexual abuse photos and videos online, including sexual abuse of infants and toddlers. Executives behind the tech companies on which the illegal images circulate are aware of the massive volume of criminal evidence their platforms help traffic, and Facebook Messenger was the target of most reports from overworked law enforcers last year. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged that the company’s plans to begin encrypting messages will be seen as an asset among criminals and poses a risk for “truly terrible things like child exploitation.” The Times’s findings are featured in two episodes of The Daily podcast.





Tech: The decision by employees at crowdfunding company Kickstarter to unionize is a first in the tech industry and highlights the growing trend of in-house worker activism in Silicon Valley (The Hill). … Along with arranging pickups of excess commercial food from supermarkets, a nonprofit created an app called Food Rescue Hero that works almost like Uber or Lyft: People who are out in their cars can log in and see if any unwanted food is available at a nearby restaurant or store. They can volunteer on the spot to deliver it to a food pantry or soup kitchen. Food Rescue Hero is now available in cities in Virginia, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio (The Associated Press).


And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by Presidents Day, which flew by us on Monday, we’re hoping to find some eagle-eyed news consumers (or smart guessers) who know which American presidents figured in some of the recent coverage.


Email your responses to and/or, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.


As mentioned in an op-ed published this week, George Washington at age 17 was the youngest ________ in Culpeper County, Va.


  1. Tree surgeon
  2. Baker
  3. Blacksmith
  4. Surveyor


Longtime Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone, 67, has an unusual tattoo on his back depicting which former president?


  1. Ronald Reagan
  2. Dwight D. Eisenhower
  3. Richard Nixon
  4. Abraham Lincoln


South Dakota lawmakers voted last week to invite Trump and first lady Melania Trump to view Fourth of July fireworks scheduled for the first time in a decade to help celebrate Mount Rushmore. Which of these former presidents is NOT carved into the Black Hills granite?


  1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  2. Theodore Roosevelt
  3. Abraham Lincoln
  4. George Washington


Which former president does not want to endorse a primary candidate in the 2020 White House race (and keeps reinforcing that)?


  1. Jimmy Carter
  2. Bill Clinton
  3. George W. Bush
  4. Barack Obama




Tags Amy Klobuchar Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Chuck Todd Dan Coats Dana Rohrabacher David Joyce Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Jared Kushner Jimmy Carter Joe Biden Joseph Maguire Julian Assange Mark Esper Mark Zuckerberg Melania Trump Michael Bloomberg Mike Pompeo Paul Tonko Roger Stone Stephanie Grisham Tucker Carlson
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